May 30, 1822, marks 200 years since the betrayal of Denmark Vesey’s organized revolt of 5,000–9,000 enslaved and free Black people in the Charleston, South Carolina area and neighboring plantations. Being led by Denmark Vesey and planned for Bastille Day, July 14th, the scheme was divulged by George Wilson, a “favorite and confidential slave,” to his master, and possibly another enslaved person, who disagreed with the conspiracy.
Vesey, whose original name was Telemanque, was born in West Africa, captured as a youth and sold to slaver Captain Vesey of Charleston, with whom he remained for 20 years. In 1800, still enslaved, Vesey was fortunate to win a lottery prize large enough to purchase his freedom. Being a person of high intelligence and creativity, he opened a successful carpentry shop, acquired property, and lived a relatively successful and prosperous life.
However, growing discontent with his hatred for slavery drove him to perfect his abilities to agitate, organize, and move his people to resist their abuse and exploitation under slavery. At the same time, the city of Charleston’s oppression and closure of the African Church enraged the 3,000-person membership and wider Black communities which, coupled with Vesey’s inspiration from the revolutionary spirit of the 1791 Haitian Revolution, fed his fire to organize the insurrection, which came to be regarded as “the most courageous ever to threaten the racist foundations of America.” – Sterling Stuckey
The revolt strategy was for Vesey and his group of enslaved people and free Blacks to slay their owners and temporarily seize Charleston, and then shortly after escape to Haiti to avoid retaliation. However, the betrayal resulted in 131 conspirators being charged as such by Charleston authority, whereby a total of 67 men were convicted and 35 hanged, including Denmark Vesey.
Denmark Vesey’s unrealized revolt has since inspired expanded politization of Black communities, and established his legacy as a hero. Frederick Douglass was the first to invoke Vesey’s name as the battle cry for the first all-Black infantry during the Civil War.